Use Multiple Fly Rigs for Bass, Panfish

“Wow, they are really pounding those flies,” my brother said, on this spring’s annual crappie fishing outing.

Indeed, the school of crappies that we located were either nailing my favorite surface fly, the Panny Popper, or inhaling a microstreamer pattern that I developed for crappies. I was able to entice as many fish to the fly as he got to hit the fathead minnows he was fishing under a bobber using spinning tackle. Between the two of us, we caught enough decent-sized crappies for a fish fry, and had a lot of fun in the process.

In the realm of fly fishing, nothing is cooler than standing alongside another angler using conventional tackle, and using bait, and catching just as many fish as they do.

For trout anglers, fishing with multiple flies is nothing new. As long as there have been fly fishermen, the idea that two flies are better than one has been around. While today’s angler usually uses two nymphs, or a dry and a nymph, instead of a cast of wet flies, multiple fly rigs are standard fare for trout.

The question is why can’t warm-water anglers do the same?

Perfect For Panfish
There are a number of multiple fly rigs that can be used successfully for bass and panfish, and often these rigs work when nothing else will. Multiple flies also are needed for a number of specific situations where single flies will typically not function as well.

Panfish in particular are usually best pursued with multiple fly rigs. During the spring, crappies and bluegills make a migration from the deeper water where they spent the winter, to adjacent bays. Prior to their spawn, they move into the shallow waters of these bays. There are a couple of distinct phases to the panfish spawn. During the initial phase, crappies in particular roam the shallow bays of any lake in dense schools, terrorizing the local minnow population.

Crappies look up to feed. Bait anglers usually use fathead minnows, suspended underneath a bobber by about 1-foot of monofilament line. This time-proven rig usually fills up buckets full of panfish. Fly anglers can do the same with the slider/micro-streamer rig.

When panfish are in this pre-spawn phase, a multiple fly rig with a small, panfish slider that does not make a lot of disturbance, and a small, micro-sized streamer as a point fly works extremely well. During this initial phase of the spawn, both crappies and bluegills can be caught on the micro-sized streamers, suspended beneath a small panfish slider. The surface fly acts largely as a strike indicator. It is often very difficult to detect the take of a crappie in cooler water. Crappies inhale the fly and spit it out, and there is often no indication they have done so without having the surface fly to watch.

Try A Slider
Of course, it is possible to use a regular strike indicator, but the slider fly is much better because sometimes, even in fairly cold water, the occasional crappie will take a swat at the surface fly while using this rig. It is much more fun to catch a fish on a topwater fly.

The Japanese have taken the multiple fly rig system to the maximum of its potential. They have a rig called a Shikuru that spin fishermen use to catch herring for use as bait. The flies are just simple pieces of white plastic rigged every 6 inches or so above a lead weight. Interestingly enough, the same rig fools crappies and panfish because it looks like a bunch of baitfish and is much more attractive.

Fly anglers can do the same thing with three or more wet flies in a series fished on an intermediate line. Rig up a point fly that is weighted, and two droppers up above it, and you have a rig that will often result in multiple hookups. An intermediate line, or a floating line and weighted point fly, is much better than a sinking line because it will hang up in the weeds much less.

Bass Like Multiple Fly Approach
Smallmouth bass are another warm-water species that are suckers for the multiple fly approach, particularly stream bass. Smallies can be quite picky at times. While they will often hit darn near anything under the right conditions, they get lockjaw, particularly when the sun is bright on the water. It often takes an offer that they can’t refuse.

Most smallmouth streams have populations of dobsonfly larvae called hellgrammites. A Black Wooly Bugger makes for a very good hellgrammite (or as they are called around here, dobbie) imitation. This still can get refused by smallmouths, but add caddis larvae, about a 1-foot above the Wooly Bugger, and you have a rig that often triggers inactive bass.

Bass in general, and smallmouths in particular, are a schooling fish. If you catch one, he usually has several buddies in the same spot. They also are very competitive. They compete with each other and other species to see who can be the first to grab a meal. Seeing what appears to be a hellgrammite about to score an easy meal on a caddis larvae is often enough to trigger an inactive fish into hitting.

With this rig, it usually runs about 50/50: sometimes they pound on the Wooly Bugger, apparently out of aggression, and other times they ignore the bigger fly and grab the nymph.

Largemouth bass are another warm-water fish where the multiple fly approach can lead to success. Largemouths are usually found in a lake situation, and where there are bass lakes, there are weeds. Fishing a fly through weeds is a major pain, but fishing a multiple fly rig often makes it much more successful.

Largemouths like to hit falling bait or lure, but the trouble is that it is difficult to detect the take in this situation. It is easy to feel the bass hit with baitcasting equipment and a tight monofilament line, but quite difficult for a fly angler. Bait casters often call this grub fishing because that is what their plastic lures are called.

Detecting Action
Fly anglers can do the same with a slider bug, and a weighted falling fly. Cone headed, Wooly Buggers is a great point fly for this type of rig. Since you want a right angle between the fly and the dropper, the best way to fish this rig is to tie the point fly to the eye of the dropper fly’s hook.

With this rig, as the slider fly is stripped in, the point fly rises in the water, and when the slider fly stops, the point fly starts to sink. It creates a zigzag motion for the point fly, causing it to rise and drop, and the slider makes it easy to detect the takes.

Shad are another species that fall for the multiple rig technique. In areas where shad get a lot of fishing pressure, such as at a dam with a lot of fishing access, they can get a little more difficult to fool.

The multiple fly rig works well in this situation. A standard shad fly, in size 6 with a short dropper tippet tied in at the bend of the hook that leads back to a much smaller cheater fly (size8 or 10) works well. For the point fly, it takes nothing much more sophisticated than a tinsel body and a little tinsel tail.

There are several different ways in which people multiple flies can be rigged. The best way that I have found for adding a second fly is to tie a short piece of tippet right to the bend of the hook on the first fly. This rig casts well without tangles provided the point fly weighs less than the first fly. In general, any weighted or heavy fly should be rigged as the point fly, with other lighter flies above it on the leader.

The other way to set up a multiple fly rig is to tie the point fly to the eye of the hook on the dropper fly. This is great where you want a right-angle effect where the point fly is suspended right underneath a surface popper or slider.

For panfish, adding a couple of short droppers off of the main leader, just like a typical multiple wet fly used for trout, works well. The key thing is that the dropper tippet be kept short, as this will result in far fewer tangles. It also is a good idea to use a lighter tippet for the droppers. If one of the dropper flies gets hung up, it can be broken off without losing the entire rig.

With a little ingenuity, there is no limit to the possibilities of fishing multiple flies for catching warm-water species. The old saying goes that “two heads are better than one.” Often two flies are better than one. Give these multiple fly rigs a try, after all, they are not just for trout any more.

The author says multiple fly rigs are not just for trout any more.

The best for adding a second fly is to tie a short piece of tippet right to the bend of the hook on the first fly, according to the author.

The author says multiple fly rigs are not just for trout any more.

The author says multiple fly rigs are not just for trout any more.

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